Monday, 21 January 2019

Return to Yangon

I love Myanmar. I l especially love Yangon. That may surprise some people. Most visitors choose to spend only a couple of days in this former capital city, see Shwedagon and then head off to Bagan or Inle. But they are missing out on the glorious chaos of Yangon, a chaos lived out in streets that teem from early morning to late at night. It is two years since I was last here and much has changed. There more restaurants and banks and trendy cafes have popped up in surprisingly large numbers. Best of all, efforts have been made to clean up some parts of the city and to improve the environment of those living there - although a huge amount remains to be done.

Yangon is a city of contradictions. The influence of Buddhism is everywhere with monks and nuns a constant presence in the streets and yet the Muslim call to prayer is heard throughout the day. There are also Hindu temples, churches of various denominations and a synagogue that serves the remaining 20 Jewish residents of Yangon. There is even a Jain temple although that may now be without a congregation as I understand there are no longer any resident Jain families. The built heritage is also astonishingly diverse and includes some of the finest colonial period buildings in Asia. Many are decaying, some have already lost and others are being saved including the Burmese Favourite department store, established in 1918, empty since 2005 and now undergoing restoration.

Arched windows, Chinatown
Colonial building, Downtown Yangon
Entrance, Chinese temple
The best way to discover the secrets of a city is to explore it on foot and so during my recent visit I spent many hours strolling through the numbered streets, arranged on a grid system like that of New York. I delighted in wandering up and down the lanes, finding markets I didn't know existed, using my ten or so words of the Myanmar (Burmese) language to engage with people and to secure a photographic record of my trip. Knowing those few words  - hello, how are you? thank you - were in many cases enough to win the warmest of smiles and a hearty response, even if preceded by a look of surprise. There were some linguistic surprises for me too such as the two boys playing football in the courtyard of a Chinese temple, keeping score in English and pretending to be Manchester United against Arsenal.




I have already mentioned the ubiquitous presence of monks and nuns. They can be seen everywhere, collecting alms in the mornings and then walking the streets throughout the day. The monks early morning round to "collect the rice" is a disciplined affair, barefoot in all weathers and locations including the wholesale fish market where the ground is covered in waste. In the mornings people stand at the side of the road waiting for the monks to pass so that they can donate to them and then receive a blessing.  Most Buddhist men will spend at least some time as a monk even if they choose to do so for a short period of time before returning to secular society. There is no such obligation for women but the nunneries (like the monasteries) take in orphans and children from poor families unable to look after them. Many of the girls out collecting are extremely young, even less than ten years old. They usually walk in pairs or small groups but I came across larger groups of eight or ten nuns on a couple of occasions.

Despite being an experienced traveler, I felt protective towards these children and began buying fruit in the mornings in order to give it to them as they passed by. I was aided in this by the generosity of some of the vendors who for reasons best known to themselves insisted on giving me extra fruit but refused to accept additional payment. I encountered this kind of generosity on many occasions during my time in Myanmar. But back to the nuns. On one morning having already given away all of my fruit I placed a few bank notes into the collecting bowl of the smallest girl in a group of very young nuns. The others immediately surrounded me calling out and holding up their bowls. How could I refuse? I could only think of my own grand daughters and how I would feel if this was their life. On a lighter note nuns come in all ages. I met two older women sitting outside Bogyoke Market. I asked if I could photograph them. They agreed but asked me to wait a moment to allow them to tidy up their clothing, taking my request very seriously.

A young monk at the fish market - notice the bare feet
Mister Ayub with his portrait
Ko Mint Lwin
Daw Khin Eye
If I have time and can find somewhere to print from a USB I try to return to the people who have allowed me to photograph them and present them with a copy of their picture. In Yangon I was able to do this for several people. These included some interesting characters. Mister Ayub has a shop in 29th street. His family came to the then Burma from Surat, Gujarat in the 1840's, established a business and have been in Yangon ever since.

Ko Myint Lwin is a barber. I noticed his open fronted shop and its very old furnishings as I walked the streets on the first day of my trip. His elderly mother, Daw Khin Eye was sitting outside the shop and told me that she thought that some of the chairs originally came from the UK. I treated myself to a 30 pence haircut when I returned to hand them copies of their pictures.

Ten years ago I bought myself a Vivienne Westwood sweater that I can't bear to part with. It has been repaired many times and I needed to repair it again in Yangon. U Zaw, owner of a small tailoring shop in the Bogalay Zay market fixed it for me on the second day of my trip. He established his shop, New Land, in 2016 when he moved to the city from a much smaller town. His family were not always tailors as his father was an engineer who worked on the railways. U Zaw did not want to accept payment from me saying that I was a guest. I insisted on paying but again, the cost was less than a pound. He works on an old Singer machine.

U Zaw, a tailor with a generous heart
Dried fish vendor, wholesale market
Informal street market, Downton Yangon
Yangon is a city of markets including huge wholesale fruit, vegetable and fish suppliers, smaller more local affairs and large numbers of seemingly informal vendors grouped together in particular streets. On this visit I walked from my hotel in 38th to 13th Street, enjoying the chaotic scenes of Chinatown and the Indian Quarter. Here amongst the old but surviving shop houses I saw chickens being plucked in enormous vats of water, meat of all kinds being cut up and displayed and snacks, fruit, vegetables and household goods on sale. Vendors call out to attract customers and delivery vehicles manage to manoeuvre amongst the most crowded and narrow of streets, albeit not always successfully. On my final day in the city I saw a delivery van accidentally overturn the stall of a woman selling fruit. Some very severe words were exchanged despite the driver getting down from his truck to help put things right.

Porter, wholesale market
A cleaner environment
Since my last visit some efforts have been made to clear the once horrifying alleys that are hidden between the numbered streets. Previously piled high with domestic rubbish and overrun with rats a number have been cleaned up by Doh Eain, an NGO that works with artists to beautify public spaces. A few simple swings and slides have been installed and the local children now have somewhere safe and pleasant to play. The project was paid for through crowd funding, perhaps demonstrating the scale of the challenge and the competing priorities in a country trying hard to deal with many issues. Small scale community based projects such as this are important in supporting people to look after their own environment.

Regular readers will know that I sometimes struggle with food when traveling. This is because I am  1) a vegetarian 2) addicted to coffee and cake 3) picky. Yangon coped admirably with me. I returned to my old favourite Pansuriya which has good coffee and a variety of tasty vegetarian dishes. Food is served in a large airy room decorated with old pictures of Yangon and other memorabilia. But I also have a couple of new favourites. Rangoon Tea House is a modern version of an old idea, serving good tea and coffee, a big range of Myanmar traditional food and dishes influenced by other cultures. And for the most authentic experience, nothing beats Lucky 7 Tea House. A huge cafe, it is busy from morning to night, has great staff, serves great tea and the tastiest samosas Ive ever eaten - and I've been to India twice.  You might need to wait for a table at both places, but the wait will be worth it. And what about cake? Well, there's always the Strand Hotel's cafe.

I said at the beginning, I love Yangon. I can't wait to return - and I won't wait two years next time.

You might also like Myanmar Journey Part One - Yangon

You can see more pictures of Myanmar here

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

An Art Deco synagogue, a famous writer and a modernist landmark - Jewish Ahmedabad

Ahmedabad is the largest city in Gujarat. It is home to almost 6 million people, 80% of them Hindus and 13% Muslims. There are also significant numbers of Jains, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists and almost 150 Bnei Israel Jews. During my recent time in India I was was able to meet some of the community members, to visit their beautiful synagogue during the preparations for Yom Kippur and to eat a delicious lunch in the home of India's most accomplished Jewish writer. 

The Bnei Israel Jews arrived in India about two thousand years ago. Fleeing the land of Israel after the fall of the Second Temple, survivors of a shipwreck came ashore at Alibaug in the Konkan region, on India's west coast. They lost their books in the Arabian Sea but maintained the Hebrew prayers and Jewish customs including circumcision and the dietary laws. They established new communities and worked as oil pressers and farmers. Their descendants still live in the dwindling Jewish communities of Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Alibaug, Pune and elsewhere in the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. The Ahmedabad community reached its peak in the 1960's with about 2,500 members. Since then many have left for Israel where communities can be found in Ashdod and Be'ersheva. Others moved to the USA.



Aviv Divekar is the Secretary of Ahmedabad's Magen Avraham synagogue. We met there whilst members of the community cleaned the building and made preparations for Yom Kippur. He told me that although there are few Jews here now, Jewish life is still possible. There is no rabbi and the last chazan left for Israel in the 1970's but one of the community members has trained in order to be able to lead the prayers and to fulfil the role of shochet. The community is very active, celebrates all of the Jewish holidays and there is a weekly minyan. Interestingly, Aviv also told me that there are several Jewish owned schools in the city but that I would be hard pressed to find Jewish pupils and the school rolls are now made up of Hindu and Muslim students. This is a common story in India. Last year I visited the Jewish Girls School in Kolkata. There are at most 20 Jews remaining in that city and there have been no Jewish students since the 1980's.

The Magen Avraham synagogue was built in 1934 and is a stunning Art Deco structure. It is maintained in good order and many original features remain including ziggurat motifs above the ark, marble chequered floors and decorative grills and bannisters. It is located in the heart of the old city, opposite a Parsi temple, close to a mosque and a Hindu temple and adjacent to a bazaar. As I walked through the streets on the way to the synagogue, people called out to ask where I am from and what is my name. To my surprise one of them asked me if I have ever been to Dewesbury. I haven't, but he had! Aviv told me that there are generally good relations with the different communities and that their representatives are invited to come and celebrate the major festivals. However there has been at least one attempted attack on the synagogue which prompted an increase in security measures including the presence of armed police.


One of the major problems for the Jews of Ahmedabad is finding a marriage partner. Young people generally seek a spouse in Mumbai which is still home to more than 3000 Jews or go overseas, particularly to Israel. Whilst this ensures Jewish continuity it does not always help sustain the local community as it seems that Mumbai brides prefer to remain in their home city and not to move to Gujarat. This issue is also the subject of Bombay Brides the latest novel of award winning author Esther David, a native of Ahmedabad.

It is the latest in a series of books by Ms. David which include both novels and works of non-fiction. She agreed to meet with me during my recent trip, very generously inviting me to lunch at her home where I was treated to a selection of wonderful Indian vegetarian dishes including a very tasty Bnei Israel dish made from potatoes and onions. The food was served on plates that bore the monogram of her father, Reuben David. He was a self taught vet and accomplished animal conservationist who established the city's zoo in the 1950's. An uncle was also a well known figure, knew Gandhi and was involved in the independence movement.

Surrounded by books, photographs and paintings, several of them her own work, she spoke about her career as a writer and her identity as a Jew in India.  After several publisher rejections, her first book The Walled City came out to acclaim in 1997. It was followed by Book Of Esther. Whilst attending a conference in Paris, Penguin offered her a contract to write a 500 page novel about five generations of a Bnei Israel family in India. Her immediate acceptance of their offer took the publishers by surprise. It was suggested she take some time to think but in response she told them "what's to think about, I'll definitely do it". A planning meeting held the next day, originally scheduled for half an hour lasted all morning and ended with a contract being signed the same afternoon. Despite then experiencing doubt on her return to Ahmedabad, she was able to produce the epic Book of Esther based on the story of her family, and inspired in part by what she described as a "huge box" of family photographs.


When I recently re-read the book I was struck by the mixture of Jewish and Hindu observance by some of the characters. Some of these practices appear to have been carried out with a degree of secrecy and guilt. I discussed this with a friend who grew up in Mumbai who told me that this mixing of faiths was not unusual and that particular saints and gurus would be revered by devotees of different faiths who would not see this as a challenge to their identity, something the was confirmed by the author.

The David family kept the holidays and traditions but were not particularly religious. The exception to this was her grandmother who Esther remembered "dragging us to the synagogue and organising our festivals at home". Despite being illiterate she was also the keeper of stories, many of which she passed on to her grand daughter and which have influenced her writing. Her parents were less religious and in preparation for writing "Book of Esther" she studied Judaism with Johnny Pingle, one of the community elders. She  developed an interest in the prophet Elijah, an important figure in Bnei Israel tradition which includes the belief that he set foot in India before ascending to heaven, stopping at a village near Alibaug and leaving the imprint of his horse's hoof on a rock. The rock is revered by Bnei Israel Jews who make pilgrimages there, to take vows and to ask for wishes to be granted. It would also come to play an important part in Esther David's life.

She spent many years struggling to find her identity, finally understanding who she was through her writing but more significantly it was a visit to the rock that clarified things for her.  On making that visit she felt "...a sense of homeland, of being a Bnei Israel who had just arrived two thousand years ago".  Esther described herself to me as a secular, Indian Jew who sometimes attends the synagogue but who is also "very desi (Indian) and pukka Ahmedabad". Before achieving acclaim as a writer, some of the community viewed her with a degree of suspicion. Art and literature were not normally things a Bnei Israel woman would be engaged in. They may also have though her a little "too Indian", partly due to her wearing a bindi but she is clearly very comfortable with who she is.

Book of Esther has recently been brought back into print in response to public demand as has Book of Rachel winner of the 2010 Sahitya Academy Award for English literature. The only changes made for the new editions are to the cover, both of which use images of fruit. This seems very appropriate given the importance of food to the culture particularly as Book of Rachel includes a recipe at the beginning of every chapter.

Esther is working on a number of projects designed to record and commemorate the Jews of India. Over a period of four years she attended every community event that she could - weddings, bar-mitzvahs, circumcisions, etc in order to make a photographic record. She is also a collector of Judaica, so much so that families leaving India often donate items to her. She has become an expert in this field and gives advice to museums on their holdings.

After a fascinating three hours spent talking with the only Jewish writer to have written about India's Jews, I left thinking how her work is preserving the history and tradition of a now very small community as well as forward to her new novel...and savouring the taste of her cooking.

Before leaving Ahmedabad I made a visit to another landmark building with Jewish connections. The magnificent modernist Indian Institute of Management designed by Jewish American architect Louis Kahn and built in the 1960's. The highlight is the Louis Kahn Plaza around which the library, classrooms and faculty offices are arranged. This spectacular structure manages to combine modernism with references to the city's past with its arches, columns and approach to providing natural light and shade. Visitors are welcome but must make an appointment in advance.


An edited version with additional photographs appears in the January edition of Jewish Renaissance magazine.

You can see more pictures of Ahmedabad here.

You might also like Those Gujaratis Will Steal Your Hearts With Their Food And Their Friendliness

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Maputo - the people in the street


Maputo was the final stop on my recent tour of Mozambique. Regular readers will know that my favourite activity when traveling is to wander the streets observing every day life whilst meeting and photographing local people. Maputo is a great city in which to do all of those things. This post introduces some of the many people I met there.

Mafalala is one of the city's best known areas. Close to the centre it was built to accommodate African workers who were denied the right to live in the central area during the colonial period despite working there every day. The neighbourhood was to become an important centre of resistance to colonial rule. Despite being one of Maputo's poorest neighbourhoods it has  a strong reputation for art, music and dance. This can be seen in the many murals that add colour to the streets. It is also the birthplace of football legend Eusebio and of Samora Machel, Mozambique's first president after independence.

The people are friendly, welcoming to visitors and happy to talk about their lives if interest is shown. I visited twice during my few days in the city. On the first occasion I met Amina in the street opposite a small mosque. She was sitting under an umbrella, taking shelter from the extreme heat and waiting for customers to purchase fruit from her stall. I was surprised to hear that she is 85 years old. She seemed much younger and this must have shown in my expression as she produced her ID card and asked me to look at the date of birth. She was indeed 85. She said that it was difficult to make money here but that her son works in London and is able to help her from time to time.

Amina, a youthful 85, Mafalala
Shop worker and impressive biscuit collection, Mafalala
Mafalala has several shops including a long established general store. I went in to buy some water and noticed that as well as local products there were some very familiar items on sale including Ovaltine and Milo. People who know me will not be surprised to know that I also noticed a very fine selection of biscuits including Oreos, Romany Creams and a brand called Boudoir. I've not tried Boudoir before but they looked interesting. I asked one of the staff if I could take his picture. A little shy he wanted me to obtain the agreement of the owner first. Agreement secured he happily posed in front of those biscuits.

Many children play in the streets of Mafalala. Some of them asked me to photograph them. This happens a lot when traveling in some parts of the world. In India and the Philippines I was pursued by children wanting just one more picture sir. The poses the children assume are pretty much the same everywhere doubtless influenced by music videos and youtube. One small group waiting outside a shop were enjoying loud music coming from a nearby house. The resulting picture is perhaps my favourite of my time in Mozambique.

Friends, Mafalala
Waiting for the shop to open, Mafalala
Alberto, street tailor
Away from Mafalala, I noticed a line of three tailors working under the veranda of a now closed cafe. Tailors fascinate me. Despite the worldwide mass production of clothing, it is still possible to see them working in the street in many places. Theirs is a portable skill with relatively few requirements for establishing a business. I was able to speak to them through a guide who told me that they had moved to Maputo from Nampula in the north in search of a better life. As I was about to leave, a woman called to me and invited me to photograph her. She was also from Nampula and was cooking a regional meat and rice dish to sell to hungry workers.

Preparing traditional Nampula dishes
Maputo has numerous markets, all of them good places to see every day life. The pictures below are from different mercados across the city. The young woman holding her baby was selling vegetables at a large market on the outskirts of Maputo. The very stylish young man in the long coat has a stall in the huge Xipamanine market. At Xipamanine, after seeing my camera, several people came forward to ask me to take their picture whilst others wanted a selfie with me. I am often surprised at how many people are interested in being photographed. Despite the widespread ownership of mobile phones, there is still something special about standing in front of a real camera.

Will you take us to Brazil?
The markets also provided moments of comedy. Some of the female vendors enjoyed teasing me. One group asked if I could take them to Brazil in return for a photograph whilst three very confident women said I could photograph them if I first agreed to marry one of them! When I suggested I take a picture and then come back when I'd decided who to marry they were not impressed saying they'd been caught out like that before. Others were less forward including a woman sewing bags for storing vegetables. She indicated that it was fine to take her picture but preferred to look down rather than at the camera. Some gentle teasing from her friends eventually persuaded her to look up but I really like the series I took with eyes downcast and a smile playing on her face. Another woman, Amalia, involved in the same type of work, looked directly at the camera allowing me to capture her kind expression.

Vegetable vendor and child
Vegetable vendor, Xipamanine
Pretending to be shy, Xipamanine
Amalia, Xipamanine
Chamanculo is a short drive from Mafalala. The two have much in common with many difficult social issues including poor housing and sanitation. The warmth of the people is similar too and many of them called out hola or boa tarde as I passed by. I noticed Felix, Nelson and Milton sitting on the external counter of a closed shop. They wanted to know where I was from and if I like football - the two questions I was most asked in Mozambique. They told me they like English football but were keen supporters of Barcelona and Juventus. As with several other people I met, they asked for a picture with me and my guide before we parted. The little boy in the red t-shirt stood and watched my exchange with the three young men. As I was about to move on, he approached me and asked very politely please sir, one picture?. Who could say no?

Felix, Nelson and Milton, Chamanculo
Please sir, one picture, Chamanculo
Maputo is a seaside city and has some beautiful beaches overlooking the Indian Ocean. Early in the morning on certain days of the week, followers of the Zion churches gather on the beach to pray and to perform rituals which encompass both Christianity and traditional beliefs. On the morning I visited a young priest was also present, he is pictured below.

Church of Zion priest
Prayers by the sea
I spent just three days in Mozambique's capital city. I could happily have stayed longer. I hope to return one day to revisit Mafalala, Chamanculo and Xipamanine and to meet more people of magnificent Maputo. In the meantime, some more pictures...

Nelson, shoeshine, Downtown
Five minutes rest, Xipamanine
Idalia in pink

You can see more pictures of Mozambique here.

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Monday, 17 December 2018

Ibo - Ghosts Of The Past And Hope For The Future

Ibo is a small island of about 4,000 inhabitants. The largest of the Quirimba group it is accessible by air and sea. Visitors come to scuba dive, to see the many different species of wildlife and also to use the place as a base from which to visit other islands. I came for different reasons, to meet the  people and to see the streets abandoned by the Portuguese in the 1970's, many of which have fallen into a serious state of disrepair.


Ibo airport
I arrived as the only passenger in a four seater light aircraft that took just 25 minutes from Pemba. The short flight offers spectacular views of other islands and the Indian Ocean's many shades of green and blue. Arrival on Ibo was also quite something as children playing football beside the runway interrupted their game to waive hello and a small group of women crossed the landing area carrying baskets on their heads.

The people of Ibo are friendly, interested in visitors and gave an enthusiastic response to my attempts to wish them good morning or good afternoon in Portuguese. The children are especially curious about foreigners. On several occasions during my few days on the island, I was followed by groups of school age (and younger) children who called out hola repeatedly. A few of them would try out a little more English, asking me where I was from, where is my wife and what football team do I like. They were singularly unimpressed when I told them I am not keen on football.

Flor de Ibo
Avenida Maria Pia
Abandoned building in the administrative area
Kiosk selling provisions
The island is small and I was soon walking amongst the abandoned villas and shops that I had read about and seen pictures of. Some of them are in particularly bad shape, with collapsed roofs and nature is beginning to reclaim them but others have fared better.

Ibo was once a thriving commercial centre with Portuguese, Indian and Chinese owned businesses as well as local merchants. Mozambique became independent from Portugal in 1975 and the new government gave Portuguese residents a choice. They could either adopt Mozambican nationality or leave within 24 hours taking just 20 kilos of possessions with them. The vast majority chose the latter and over 300,000 people left the country in just two weeks. One of the islanders told me that he remembered seeing the Portuguese depart. They packed their things, closed the door behind them and left. We miss them. Many Indians and Chinese also left, leaving behind locked homes and businesses, most of which remain empty today.

On Avenida Maria Pia, there is a particularly poignant reminder of the old days. Flor de Ibo was once a thriving grocery story. It is now slowly decaying, its green paint peeling away and vegetation growing on the roof. The owner was one Mahmoodu Haji Jacob who sold spices, fresh fruit, vegetables and other food items. Something drew me back to this spot several times during my stay. The shop retains a little of its former grandeur due to its size and the stylish pediment over the entrance, but there is something unbearably sad about it too. A terrible sense of loss. Sitting opposite the old store in the late afternoon I could almost smell those spices and see the ghosts of the former residents going in and out of the shop.

As well as a significant number of Indian residents there was also a small Chinese community on Ibo. Over many years, Chinese merchants visited from Macau, another former Portuguese colony now reclaimed by China. They came here in search of sea cucumbers and one of them, Hong Jan Irmao established a very successful export business from the island before he too left in the great exodus of the 1970's.

Following the dancers
But of course, there is still life here and during my stay I was to see Avenida Maria Pia street come briefly and gloriously back to life.  My stay coincided with a cultural programme arranged in honour of a visit from the Italian Ambassador. This included music, dance and craft exhibitions at the beautifully restored Fortaleza de Sao Jean-Baptista during the day. In the evening an open air concert was staged near the main street and several stalls opened up to sell food and drink. I spent a little time there and enjoyed the music but the highlight of the day for me was an impromptu performance by some of the drummers and dancers over from Nampula. They walked from the fort to one of the jetties where they performed a dance surrounded by at least 100 children who had followed them all the way from the fort, traversing the Avenida on the way.

Folk dancers from Nampula
Joao Baptista, Ibo's oldest inhabitant
I was able to meet several interesting people during my time on the island. Joao Baptista is said to be the oldest resident. A youthful 91, his birthday is celebrated on 23rd June every year as part of the Ibo Island Festival. His father was an official in the colonial administration and due to this Joao was the only African child allowed to attend Ibo's Portuguese school. I asked him how his friends reacted to this and how he was received by the teachers and other pupils. He told me that his friends were happy for him to go to school and that he was made welcome by the other children. As an adult Joao initially worked for the Portuguese but later became involved in the independence movement which resulted in him being imprisoned for a time in the island's fort - the name of which, ironically, he shares. Today he likes to sit on his favourite Goan chair on the veranda of his house and to talk to passers-by, telling them about the old days and answering their questions about his beloved island.

Bashiri Yusufa, silversmith
Sheena gets to work on another customer
Joanna, Moishes and Jacob
There are a number of craftsmen working on the island including silversmiths and wood carvers. Bashiri Yusufa told me he is 46 years old although he appeared to be older. He has a small workshop where he makes silver rings, necklaces and other items of jewellery, sharing the space with two young men who work in copper, producing similar items. I bought a few pieces from him and he was happy to pose for a photograph. He called out bom dia to me when I walked past his workshop again the next day.

If I am traveling for more than a few days I like to visit a local barber shop, to get tidied up and to see how this noble profession operates in other countries. Ibo has two barbers and after finding the more central one closed on a couple of occasions, a young couple helped me to find Sheena's in the village. Sheena is a serious chap and took a moment to understand my joke when I pointed to one of the somewhat bouffant styles advertised on the wall of his salon. Friends know I am what you might term challenged in the follicle department and the chances of me leaving his shop with anything other than a zero cut were negligible. He eventually saw the funny side of my request and I came away a satisfied customer.

One of my other must-dos when traveling is to try the local coffee. Ibo coffee is of the robusta variety and has a very strong taste which is perfect for me and I bought some to bring home. It can be sampled at the few cafes dotted around the island.  In addition to the cultivated coffee there are a few abandoned plantations. The islander who spoke to me about the departure of the Portuguese showed me one such place and it was here that we met a young woman carrying a baby who stood in the doorway of her home observing us. She smiled, laughing when I asked for a picture and was quickly joined by a second, older child when he realised that there were visitors. She told me her name is Joanna and the children are Moishes and Jacob. It was only later that my guide told me that the plantation and the house had once belonged to his family.

Much work is being done to revitalise life on the island. I stayed at Ibo Island Lodge, a beautifully restored heritage building facing the sea where a superb range of activities are on offer. The Lodge also runs several projects aimed at improving opportunities for local people including a Montessori English School, a silversmith's programme and a number of other community enterprise schemes. Several international organisations are supporting work to protect biodiversity whilst a small number of the crumbling buildings have been restored, one of them as an hotel. There are often complex legal issues relating to abandoned buildings that make it difficult to rescue them. This is a world wide problem but is especially acute here where much of the built heritage is at risk and where there are many conflicting priorities for investment. Who knows what the future will bring.

A few more memories of Ibo...

Woman wearing Mussiro - a natural cosmetic that protect the skin from the sun
Is he taking our picture?


I stayed at Ibo Island Lodge, a beautifully restored heritage building facing the sea. 


You can see more pictures from Mozambique here.